Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona after 6 hours — 18 hours remain

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Our next update will be after 9 hours (12:30 a.m. ET).

We’re one-fourth of the way through the 56th annual Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

After six hours, the leaders are:

PROTOTYPE:

  • No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Mike Conway
  • No. 7 Acura Team Penske, Acura Dpi, Helio Castroneves
  • No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing, Cadillac Dpi, Christian Fittipaldi

GTLM:

  • No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Sebastien Bourdais
  • No. 911 Porsche GT Team, Porsche 911-RSR, Patrick Pilet
  • No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, Ford GT, Scott Dixon

GTD:

  • No. 29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport, Audi R8 LMS GT3, Kelvin van der Linde
  • No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, Jeroen Bleekemolen
  • No. 93 Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian, Acura NSX GT3, Mario Farnbacher

There’s still another 18 hours remaining in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

Since our last report after the first two hours, a number of things have transpired. Here are some of the most notable events:

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY:

Rain wasn’t expected to impact the race until the overnight hours heading into Sunday’s early-morning hours.

But everyone was caught off-guard when a light rain began to fall around 7:15 p.m. ET, followed by a heavy downpour around 7:30 p.m. ET.

Several cars spun out in the rain, including the No. 48 GTD Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Paul Miller Racing, as well as the No. 14 GTD Lexus RC F GT3 of 3GT Racing.

The weather also impacted the No. 63 GTD Ferrari 486 GT3, which suffered shifting problems as the rain. Repairs were made, but the car got back on-track 8 laps down.

Also, just about the same time, the No. 25 GTLM BMW M8 of BMW Team RLL, blew a right front tire and suffered significant suspension damage. The team took the car to the garage for repairs, but it appeared it could be a lengthy fix time.

Thankfully, the rain stopped after about 40 minutes of both light and heavy downfalls.

And the No. 25 team was able to repair its damage and brought the car back out on-track.

FUEL ISSUE BRINGS OUT FIRST FULL-FIELD CAUTION

The first full-field caution of the race came out with 21:30:37 left in the 24-hour event.

The No. 38 Oreca LMP2 appeared to have a fuel issue heading into Turn 1 on Daytona’s high banks, bringing out the yellow.

The caution lasted nearly 16 minutes until racing went back to green flag conditions with 21:14:54 remaining.

WHAT’S UP WITH DOOR LATCHES?

It’s rare when teams have door latching issues, yet two teams had issues early on.

First, Ricky Taylor had just taken over from Helio Castroneves when the door would not shut on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, prompting Taylor to take the car back to pit road for repairs.

The car dropped a lap down as a result, but Graham Rahal was able to get the car back on the lead lap during his stint behind the wheel.

Then the No. 62 GTLM Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE suffered a door latch issue that caused it to drop off the lead lap in the race’s third hour, as well.

TEQUILA PATRON STRUGGLES WITH TIRE ISSUES

Something appeared out of whack on the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM. It suffered a punctured tire early in the race and then again in the third hour.

The second incident was worse, as the car had to limp much of the front stretch before being able to get to pit road for repairs.

The car suffered significant damage to the right rear firewall as the tire continued to fall apart, taking much of the fender with it.

The car fell three laps down as a result.

Even worse, the radiator suffered some damage, prompting team engineers to be concerned whether the car will be able to make it to the finish.

“It blew up in the kink in the middle of the track before Turn 5,” driver Pipo Derani told FS2. “Unfortunately, the tire is completely destroyed and I had to come back in.

“It’s a real pity because I’m not sure if the car is okay. The tire was hitting the radiator so we’re just hoping we can fight back.”

RICKY TAYLOR FEELING BETTER

After three days in bed with a bad case of the flu, Ricky Taylor was back and in much better health as the race kicked off.

“I think the race car is the best medicine,” Taylor told FS2. “I feel great. Helio (Castroneves) and Graham (Rahal) did all the work and let me rest for three days to get healthy.”

As for the door latch issue on the No. 7 Acura Team Penske prototype, Taylor was disappointed but took it in stride.

“It’s so awkward when everything is going good and you’re in a rhythm and then the door opens,” Taylor told FS2. “You hear all different noises coming out of the exhaust and it throws you off.

“I wish the series would have let us run because I was just getting used to it. I was pulling on it as much as I could, but unfortunately we had to pit for it. The good news is Graham (relief driver Graham Rahal) is back on the lead lap. I think we’re P8 and we’ll try to hold on to the lead lap till about 4-5 hours to go.”

NOTES:

* Scott Pruett, competing in the last race of his career and hoping to become the Rolex 24 all-time winner (he currently is tied for first with five wins), is preparing to go out in the No. 15 3GT Racing GTD in Hour No. 7. He’s expected to run three segments in the remaining part of the race.

* The lights at both Daytona International Speedway and on most of the cars came on around 5:25 p.m. ET and will likely remain on until Hour 17 of the race.

* The No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R GTLM of Corvette Racing went roughly the first three hours of the race with radio and telemetry issues.

Drivers and team engineers could not communicate with each other, leaving the drivers to run the race by their own devices.

Finally, after a pit stop near the end of the third hour, the team was able to repair the radio and telemetry issues and things were back to normal.

* Stewart Middleton got aggressive and spun Simon Pagenaud in the No. 6 Acura Team Penske prototype late in the third hour.

Middleton was forced to take a stop-and-go penalty.

NHRA shocker in Houston: John Force fails to qualify for first time since 2008, snaps 221-race streak

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Sunday’s eliminations in the 31st annual NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway in suburban Houston  just won’t be the same without John Force.

In one of the most stunning turn of events seen in the last decade-plus in NHRA drag racing, the legendary 16-time Funny Car champion and the sport’s all-time winningest driver on Saturday failed to qualify for Sunday’s main event of the race weekend.

It marks the first time Force, who turns 69 on May 4, failed to qualify for a race since Sept. 13, 2008 in Charlotte race, snapping a string of having made the eliminations in each of the subsequent 221 races until failing to do so Saturday.

“That is hard for me,” Force said after failing to go any faster than 222.29 mph in the four qualifying rounds for the race, two on Friday and the other two on Saturday. “You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track.

“We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney and Brittany (teammates Robert Hight and daughters Courtney and Brittany Force). I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans. I am sorry to all of you fans that I didn’t make it.”

Saturday’s failure to qualify marked only the 22nd time he’s DNQ’d in his 40-year professional drag racing career. He set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.

“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” Hight said of hoss and father-in-law. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force.

“He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now.

“We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one of those set ups for John’s PEAK Funny car. He’ll be back next week in Charlotte.”

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As for the other classes (information courtesy NHRA Media Relations):Leah Pritchett set a new Top Fuel track record during the final qualifying session on Saturday to secure the top spot in Top Fuel heading into Sunday.Hight (Funny Car) and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the fifth of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Defending event champion Pritchett raced her Mopar Dodge dragster to a pass of 3.680-seconds at 326.00 mph. This is her first No. 1 qualifier of the season and eighth of her career.

“We’ve been developing our confidence the last couple of races,” Pritchett stated. “To be able to put it on the track is phenomenal. We know we need to be exceptional because our competition is exceptional.”

Pritchett will line up against Terry Brian in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Defending world champion Brittany Force locked-in the No. 2 spot after a 3.701 at 313.80 in her Monster Energy dragster. Tony Schumacher is seeded third and will face William Litton.

Hight’s final qualifying pass of 3.894 at 317.27 in his Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro took him to the top of the Funny Car category. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season, second at Houston and 58th of his career.

“This is going to be a new ball game tomorrow,” Hight said. “With fresh asphalt and the sun being out; these cars are going to spin. It’s definitely going to be fun. Two of our Chevy’s are one and two (in Funny Car) which shows we have good combinations.”

Hight will face-off against Todd Simpson Sunday morning in the first round. Teammate Courtney Force sits in the No. 2 position with a pass of 3.911 at 295.14 in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro and two-time world champion Matt Hagan rounds out the top three.

Anderson, four-time Pro Stock world champion, remained atop the field Saturday with his pass of 6.492 at 213.00 in his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro from the first qualifying session on Friday. He notched his third consecutive No. 1 qualifier of the season and is seeking his first victory of the year.

“I haven’t had great Sunday’s yet,” Anderson stated. “I know I’m going to break through one of these days though. The weather is going to be great again tomorrow. I feel good about it, I’m excited and so far it’s just been a great weekend.”

Anderson will race Steve Graham in the first round of eliminations. Jeg Coughlin Jr. qualified in the No. 2 position with a pass of 6.504 at 212.36 in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro and Tanner Gray is third.

Eliminations at the NHRA SpringNationals begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway.

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SUNDAY’S FIRST-ROUND PAIRINGS FOR ELIMINATIONS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 3.680 seconds, 326.00 mph vs. 16. Terry Brian, 4.275, 284.62; 2. Brittany Force, 3.701, 320.20 vs. 15. Terry Haddock, 4.081, 287.17; 3. Tony Schumacher, 3.703, 322.73 vs. 14. Bill Litton, 3.927, 306.60; 4. Billy Torrence, 3.737, 317.87 vs. 13. Kebin Kinsley, 3.819, 313.51; 5. Antron Brown, 3.740, 324.98 vs. 12. Terry McMillen, 3.783, 314.31; 6. Clay Millican, 3.746, 315.78 vs. 11. Mike Salinas, 3.766, 313.73; 7. Doug Kalitta, 3.748, 320.05 vs. 10. Richie Crampton, 3.766, 316.23; 8. Scott Palmer, 3.754, 318.17 vs. 9. Steve Torrence, 3.759, 313.88. Did Not Qualify: 17. Terry Totten, 4.636, 216.34.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.894, 317.27 vs. 16. Todd Simpson, Dodge Charger, 4.318, 288.33; 2. Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.911, 313.58 vs. 15. Jeff Diehl, Toyota Camry, 4.151, 283.49; 3. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.913, 311.85 vs. 14. Ron Capps, Charger, 4.077, 305.77; 4. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.918, 317.42 vs. 13. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.026, 308.99; 5. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.918, 301.94 vs. 12. Del Worsham, Camry, 4.017, 307.51; 6. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.925, 311.41 vs. 11. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.994, 311.34; 7. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.926, 313.00 vs. 10. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.989, 313.37; 8. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.927, 316.52 vs. 9. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.938, 314.09. Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 4.341, 273.05; 18. John Force, 4.625, 222.29.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.492, 213.00 vs. 16. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.775, 205.60; 2. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.504, 212.36 vs. 15. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.621, 208.65; 3. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.507, 211.99 vs. 14. John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, 6.592, 210.93; 4. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.513, 212.29 vs. 13. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.548, 210.67; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.518, 211.99 vs. 12. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.545, 210.50; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.525, 212.79 vs. 11. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.532, 212.73; 7. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.527, 212.29 vs. 10. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 211.79; 8. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.528, 211.93 vs. 9. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.530, 211.33.